family history, Kennaley

Family Mystery in Neola, Iowa

Saturday I awoke to a drizzly, cool morning; a welcomed change from the long string of hot days. I puttered around the house straightening and lightly cleaning as the hazy weather burned away. But by noon, I was ready to get on the road for a genealogical adventure. I loaded Matilda into the car and we took a mini road trip to Neola, Pottawattamie County, Iowa to do some cemetery research.

Two gals off on an adventure

My 3x great grandmother, Hanorah Murphy Kennaley was buried in the St. Patrick’s Catholic cemetery there in 1908. And in the past few weeks, I’ve done some moderate digging into the burials. Some wonderful soul/s has spent many an hour walking the cemetery, photographing tombstones and recording the names of the buried. They have uploaded the information into a searchable database that you can access here. So I had a clue of what I was searching for once I arrived at the cemetery.

Neola is a short 35 minute drive northeast on I-80 from Omaha. As I exited the interstate, I spied a sign for a local winery (Breezy Hills Winery which reminded me of a Happy Endings reference that cracked me up) which surprised me. I thought to myself: At least I have a back-up plan if the cemetery thing doesn’t pan out! (Sadly, they do not allow dogs on the premises so Matilda and I did not get to enjoy the vintage that day)

In past experiences, I find cemeteries are generally located on highways outside of town. And, me being me, I didn’t bring directions to the cemetery or have an actual address. I like to “wing it” because that’s how I best learn and commit to memory. I drove southwest, north on a gravel, east (I actually drove into Minden, Iowa at one point with no luck but I did enjoy the view of the beautiful homes, and found an antique shop that I want to return to!) before I decided to try my luck driving around the town of Neola.

Up and down streets, probably worrying the locals who were very friendly (I got many a wave which this small town gal appreciated!), I searched. I ended up going in literal circles in a neighborhood before I stopped in the middle of the road. Through people’s backyards I could SEE the cemetery! But how did I get to it?! I found my way out of the loopy neighborhood and proceeded in the direction that I had just come from, convinced I had missed the essential road. Ah ha! Third Street was my answer!

I had called my dad as I had driven into Minden to see if he had any memory of the cemetery and just as I parked beneath a shade tree, I received a text from my dad saying the cemetery was located just north of town. I quickly typed back that I had just parked and eagerly unloaded Matilda to begin our search.


Matilda and I wandered around for a few minutes before we headed toward the directory.

Cemetery directories are a goldmine. While I do enjoy the hunt for an undiscovered grave, and the euphoric feeling that comes with dumb luck, directories are a tremendous help if you’re essentially, clueless. (Fun Fact: You may also discover unknown relatives by searching the surname.) From the directory and the corresponding map of the sections of the cemetery, I set out confidently in search of my ancestor’s grave.

So many Kenealy’s! I have to wonder: are we related?
Potential Murphy relatives?

From Neola’s cemetery website, I had a general idea of what the tombstone looked like. I knew who was buried in the plot with Hanorah, and I knew one of those people was a Michael Murphy, who I assumed was a brother to Hanorah. With my feet set in the right direction, it didn’t take me long to spot what I was searching for.


MURPHY stood out bright and bold and I quickly rushed over. But where was Hanorah? I knew they shared a plot, and I knew that they had similar stones…but she was no where to be found. A momentary rush of panic (where is her stone? did something happen to it?! is she not in this plot?!) crossed my mind before I had the sense to walk to the opposite side of the stone. (Ah, doy, Brianna)


As they share a gravestone, I can safely say that Michael was a younger sibling to Hanorah. Which gladdens me because up until this point, I didn’t have any relatives for Hanorah except for a lonely “Murphy” listed as her father.

This opens up so many more questions. I know that for a time, Hanorah and her children lived in Pottawattamie County. But as her children aged, she lived with each periodically, moving around to various parts of Woodbury and Ida county Iowa. Why was Neola chosen as a burial? Why not Danbury, Woodbury, Iowa or Ida Grove, Ida, Iowa where she has children buried? Was Michael married? Was he a widower? Did he have children? Was the plot purchased by Hanorah and Michael because their spouses were buried elsewhere and they wanted to be buried with family? If so, why such a large plot? Was it simply that she also had children that remained in the Neola area and wanted a family plot?

According to the directory, buried with Michael and Hanorah are William Kenealy [sic], Edward Kenealy [sic], and an Unknown Kenealy [sic]. I believe that William and Edward are Hanorah’s children. I have a death date for William as 31 January 1926 in McAllen, Hidalgo County, Texas; and Edward 24 August 1909 in Neola, Iowa. Unknown could be Hanorah’s daughter Margaret who I do not have a death date for, or her son, Thomas, who is believed to have passed away sometime around 1909 in Chicago, Illinois.

What I find troublesome is why no one bothered to record the names of the other three people on the tombstone? It is a metal tombstone that has aged tremendously well with one blank plate remaining. Yet no one thought to record the names of the three Kennaley’s who also share the plot? I’ve come upon so many forgotten and abandoned graves in this journey and each time I discover a new one, a piece of my heart breaks and I find myself making yet another promise to rectify the missing stone. And I found myself making that same promise to William, Edward, and sadly “Unknown” (which infuriates me to type that word. No one should be “Unknown”) that they WILL be remembered and recognized.

In addition to William, Edward, and the Unknown Kenealy, I discovered another mystery. Buried within St. Patrick’s in Neola are multiple families of Kenealy’s. The name spelling may be a little different, but I’m curious if they aren’t somehow related to my line. There are so many similar names that also appear in my tree: Jeremiah, John P., David, Aloysius, Honorah, even Shirley. Is it possible that they are distant cousins?


Look closely, Thomas Murphy buried beside Bernard and Honora Kenealy. Does the Murphy and Kennaley connections go deeper than just my line?


 By far, the saddest part of this trip was seeing all the children’s graves. Between 1893 to 1959, these Kenealy families suffered great tragedies in the loss of their children. I spent many a silent moment before these small gravestones, sleeping peacefully in a row beside one another.

In the days since, I’ve been backwards and forwards through my copy of the Kennaley Family History book, but I’ve yet to uncover a lead as to a possible connection between our two families. Still, I find it interesting that of all the places Hanorah chose to move to following the murder of her husband, it was to Neola, Iowa, where another Kenealy family lived. Perhaps they are the missing link I’ve been searching for between David and retracing his steps to his native Ireland.

As Matilda and I left the cemetery, my eye was drawn to an overly large tombstone that lay beneath the shady overgrowth of a tree. I detoured over to it and had a laugh when I saw the name “Murphy” engraved upon it. It felt as if they were calling to me from beyond.


The etching was difficult to make out so I spent a few minutes fingering each letter and recording a note in my phone for reference:

FATHER: Matthew M Murphy Born in County West Meath Ireland June 24 1826 Died April 30 1880

MOTHER: Elizabeth Halprin Murphy Born in County Meath Ireland March 10 1832 Died October 25 1882

Parents of: Matthew W J
James W
Thomas O (buried beside parents 1868-1898)
Joseph F
Henry C
John A

Could Matthew be yet another sibling to Michael and Hanorah? The age range is correct, and, if research does show that he is, I’ll hopefully be able to confirm birth locations for Michael and Hanorah.

Before we left town, I stopped by the St. Patrick’s church for a picture. It was built in 1888 and it is entirely possible that Hanorah’s funeral procession left from within the building before heading north for her final resting place in the winter of 1908.


Neola is beautiful little burg that I hope to return to soon. If you find yourself in the area, take a few moments to drive around and gaze at the ornate and stately homes in both Neola and Minden. There is some breathtaking architecture at play and I love me a town that respects and upholds its historic value.

Have family buried there? When you enter Neola from I-80, you take a winding road to a stop sign. Turn left at the sign and proceed to Third Street. Turn right and take that road to the end of town. The cemetery entrance is on your left. First is St. Patrick’s, which is the Catholic cemetery and further north is Neola Township.

If you find you have free time, Arrowhead Park is on the opposite side of I-80. Initially, I was planning on taking Matilda for a hike once we finished at the cemetery, but she tuckered out on me early. We’ll try a return trip later this fall when it’s a little cooler.

In the meantime, sounds like I’ve got a plateful of research to do!
Expect an update soon!


Kennaley Family History compiled by Mark E. Speaker

1885 Iowa State Census: Iowa, State Census Collection, 1836-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

11 thoughts on “Family Mystery in Neola, Iowa”

  1. Who is Honorah’s husband? Have you looked in the census. Michael could be a husband even if he is younger. My aunt is 8 years older than her husband.

    1. Hanorah’s husband was David Kennaley, who was murdered in Jones County, Iowa in 1858. (I linked to a post I wrote previously about David’s murder.) From census records and from our collective family history, she did not remarry after David’s death. Her maiden name was Murphy which leads me to believe that Michael is her brother. I’m currently researching the Murphy’s that I found buried in Neola: Michael, Thomas, and Matthew and his family, hoping to find additional clues!

      1. I have relatives who were not buried together. In fact we can’t even find their gravesites. One must not have had a headstone even though he was quite famous in our town. Two different newspaper articles about his burial in 2 different places.

      2. It’s always so sad, when relatives can’t be found. It’s also why I think it’s extremely important to quiz all grandparents, great aunts and uncles, any known relative still alive, so that all their knowledge of family history can be continued. I really love newspaper archives, but even they aren’t a reliable source of verification. Makes you wonder if they even had editors! I hope you’re able to locate your missing relatives!

      3. I also have an orphaned great great grandfather, we just found out he claims to be born under a similar name in the Civil War enlistment records. Oh well, we may never know.

      4. It’s so strange. He claims he was “Born a HOFFER”, but went by HOPFER. Peter Bert Hopfer was born SEpt 6, 1828. The odd thing is a Liberty HOPFER, consort of Jacob HOPFER died in the town across the river in 1830. We assumed they were his parents, but how could they if he was born a HOFFER? So now we are stumped. Peter was fostered by an English family named Glidewell.

  2. Just happened upon your entry. I live at Neola and my aunt (now deceased) was married to Aloysius Kenealy. She did quite a lot of genealogy on the Kenealy family. My Uncle Al is 95 and still living near Minden, IA. He was a prisoner of war in WWII. Still many Kenealy’s living around the area. I am so glad you found our little village charming. I often walk through the cemetery to “visit” the folks who helped rear me and wonder about those whom I did not know. I enjoyed your posting and hope that you have solved some of your mysteries about your family. mlk

    1. Hello! My aunt and I visited with Al, his son and daughter-in-law last summer shortly after I wrote that post. They are such a kind family and your aunt had done an immense amount of research! We’re hoping one day to figure out if/how our two Kennaley/Kenealy families are related. ~Brianna

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